Conscripts, mercenaries, and volunteers

Willing volunteers outperform conscripts and mercenaries every time. They are more innovative and creative as well more diligent and disciplined.

Volunteers have bought into a mission and a purpose rather then been bought into it.

Much of the private sector is struggling with how to turn salaried staff from conscripts and mercenaries into volunteers. Finding ways to engage them in the work of the organisation. To provide them with fulfilling and rewarding work.

Much of the public and third sector seems to be taking almost exactly the opposite path. It finds ways to turn passionate and caring volunteers (people who have bought into the mission) into conscripts and mercenaries. This is achieved by:

  • making them servants of the system rather than servants of their customers
  • imposing performance management systems that often fail to recognise quality service delivery
  • entering into inflexible and output related contracts for service delivery that shrink opportunities for innovation and improvement
  • managing them as if they are units of production rather than as caring and compassionate people full of insights into how to improve performance.

It is a strange paradox that many private sector clients are making genuine efforts at developing employee engagement in pursuit of profits while so many third sector and public sector organisations are developing processes and systems that alienate employees and volunteers in pursuit of efficiency.

Using the Right and Left Brain at Work

Most organisations are designed to maximise the contribution of employees left brains to the pursuit of success. Targets are set, plans are laid, logic is deployed, progress is measured and accountability is maintained. Such ‘left brain’ activities fit nicely the milieu of meetings, time pressures, deadlines and procedures that form the social system of most organisations.

However most of us choose an employer based on ‘right brain’ criteria in pursuit of ‘right brain’ goals.

  • Will the work be fulfilling?
  • Will I part of a great team?
  • Will my efforts help to make the world a better place?
  • Will the job give me a lifestyle that works for me?

It is the ‘right brain’ that is the seat of creativity, imagination, innovation and passion. Unless we build a social system that feeds, stimulates and enables right brain contributions we should continue to expect as many as 1 in 4 of our employees to be looking to leave in the next 12 months, while 2 of the remaining three will be in survival (‘count the years, months and days until I retire’) mode.

Take a quick audit of your social system (meetings, processes and procedures) at work. How many opportunities in the average week are there for meaningful ‘right brain’ conversations that are likely to lead to the successful pursuit of right brain goals?

Of course it is easy for our left brains to rationalise away this paucity of ‘right brain’ opportunity in the name of efficiency and the pursuit of effectiveness. To overcome this tendency just remind your left brain of the critical importance of enabling good people to do great work, and of the need for frequent and regular innovation and renewal, if your organisation is to survive never mind thrive in the next few years.

You may find that it gives your right brain just enough time and space to do some big picture thinking.

Goals, Priorities and Resources; where does it all go wrong?

Spending time developing and clarifying goals is rarely time wasted. Although some of us spend time clarifying our work goals few of us spend time developing goals for other important aspects of our lives – family, community and self. This is one of the reasons why we find work-life balance so hard to achieve. Goals that have been set in our professional lives are not balanced by goals in other areas. The goals that we have set start to demand creativity and resources and before we know it…

Sometimes we set goals that do not provide clear priorities. Or they provide us with so many priorities that we may as well have no priorities at all. Priorities are immediate next steps that will move us closer to our goals. Good priorities are ones that we cannot fail to address. They are so simple and appealing that they cry out for us to get on with them.

But often we forget to allocate time and other resources to our priorities. Without resources to go with them our priorities are worthless. Without doubt time is the most precious resource that we can commit to a priority. I often find myself working with senior managers to clarify goals and priorities (no more than three or four at a time) and then schedule time in busy diaries to spend on them.

By scheduling two 90 minute blocks of time every week to work on priorities many managers ‘magically’ start to make tangible progress towards goals that had previously frustrated them.

The Fine Art of Progress

I get fired up about management because it the best tool for helping both organisations and the people that work in them to make progress.

Outstanding managers are able to facilitate the progress of both the individual and the organisation and to connect these in a way that results in win/wins for both.

They do this by:

  • regularly creating time and space to allow people to understand what progress looks and feels like right now – for them and for the organisation
  • building a consensus around the ‘direction(s) in which progress lies’
  • enabling people to make things happen in pursuit of progress – they promote a ‘bias for action’
  • by building the skills and confidence of people to act creatively and pro-actively in pursuit of progress within the mission, vision and values of the organisation.

One of the greatest opportunities for performance improvement is to take more time to explore these questions about progress in some depth and then to link them to immediate next steps – practical things that individuals and groups can do to close the gap between where we are now and where we want to be.  And this is what Brilliant 121s are all about.

And Peter’s Rewards…

To enjoy this in its full glory make sure you checked out the previous post on The Motivation Problem first.

The Motivation Problem

One of my favourite films is Office Space. In this clip the job evaluation consultants ask ‘our hero’ Peter Gibbons to talk them through a normal day – and he does…

Enjoy!

If you haven’t seen the film you might like to ponder what the results of Peter’s honesty were!

Watch out for tomorrow’s post!

And if anyone asks you why you are watching videos on the company’s time tell them it is management development.

121s, Covey, and Priority Management

Time and Priority Management Quadrants - Covey

Another reason why 121s are so powerful dawned on me this morning.  And it relates to the Stephen Covey Priority and Time Management Quadrants shown above.

121s almost compel you to focus on quadrant 2 type activities.

Quadrant 1 stuff has to be done almost immediately- it can’t wait for a 121.  And who is going to continually bring quadrant 3 and 4 items into play with their manager?

So the existence of 121s more or less forces attention onto the important but not urgent quadrant which is the one where the greatest value tends to be created.

So pay attention to the content of your 121s and see what you can do to bring the focus onto quadrant 2.

Covey on Time and Priority Management

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”
Stephen R. Covey

Without doubt the commonest problem I find with managers who struggle with time management and worklife balance is the failure to understand the difference between ‘prioritizing their schedule’ versus ‘scheduling their priorities’.

So many managers schedule the ‘hard’ stuff. The meetings and appointments. And then they try to schedule every other piece of work around these commitments. Instead of getting clear on the things that matter (key projects, 121s, time with loved ones etc) and getting them on the schedule first they fill the calendar with trivia and then find know quality time left to do what really matters.

Time and again I ask managers what their main objectives are and then, when I look at their calendar, find very little time scheduled to work on them – just a mass of appointments around much less important stuff.

Then they wonder why they find it so hard to find time to make progress…

Time Management Resource

Time Management by the Hour

A new manifesto has just been published on time management over at the Change This site.

In essence it recommends forgetting about tips, tricks and gizmos – instead building a really solid understanding of the 7 fundamental practices of time management;

  1. Capturing – making sure that all calls on your time are captured in a system – not in your brain
  2. Emptying – making sure that whatever you use to capture calls on your time (e-mail inboxes, in-trays, calendars etc) are regularly emptied – ie the calls on your time are put into a system
  3. Tossing – getting rid of as much of the demands on your time as possible – being rigorous – but not ruthless in managing your time commitments – saying no!
  4. Storing – putting useful information in a place where you can safely retrieve it as needed – this does not mean relying on your memory (‘tickler’ files work well here!)
  5. Acting Now! – doing whatever you can right now – especially if it will only take a few minutes – avoid procrastination. (Get a supply of those little sticky dots of paper and force yourself to put one on each piece of paper you have ‘in the system’ every time you pick it up – you will be amazed at how many get several dots – before you do ANYTHING with them!)
  6. Scheduling – anything that you can’t do right now must have time scheduled for it – effective scheduling – knowing how long things should take and what contingencies might be appropriate is a fine art – well worth mastering
  7. Listing – for jobs that need doing – but don’t merit a fixed appointment in the diary then use lists.  Have a list for things to do when you are:
  • in the office
  • at home
  • in the car thing (listening to audio books for example),
  • in town
  • at a clients etc

Picking up the right list at the right time can really help your efficiency.
This manifesto looks like it has been massively influence by Dave Allen’s work on Getting Things Done and will act as a useful reminder to anyone who has been on the PMN Time Management programme.
You can read the full manifesto here.

The Limits of Lean?

Lean

Earlier this week I went to ‘An Evening with Simon Hill’. Drawing on his experience of manufacturing industry and Yorkshire Forward, Simon Hill, Executive Director of Business at Yorkshire Forward talked about strategic business improvement using ‘Lean Principles’. Simon chose not to offer a quick reminder of what these Lean Principles are – leaving a proportion of the audience in the dark. As a reminder they are:

  1. Specify what creates value from the customers’ perspective
  2. Identify all the steps along the process chain
  3. Make those processes flow
  4. Make only what is pulled by the customer
  5. Strive for perfection by continually removing waste

With its origins in the world of total quality management Lean Principles provide a wonderful way to ensure efficient product or service delivery by allowing the whole business process to be analysed and made efficient. It emphasises systems, compliance, analysis and objectivity in pursuit of the perfect process. It really is scientific management for the late 20th Century. It is one of several business improvement tools that can help an organisation with one of its purposes – that of the efficient delivery of a product or service.

However increasingly efficiency is not the only game in town. Indeed it is not even the main game for most organisations. Renewal, re-invention and transformation are increasingly the key drivers of sustainable value creation in modern knowledge based economies. If I heard Simen rightly then after a considerable investment of money and time in implementing Lean his business had just about managed to stand still. Now this is an great achievement for a manufacturer of automotive components in South Yorkshire – but I doubt if it carries the seeds for a major economic re-birth.

My concern is the ‘story’ that Lean tells about the nature of business and enterprise. That it is about analysis, rationality, incremental improvement and mediocrity – giving the customer just what they ask for – when they ask for it. It is that the expectations of the customer should drive the production of the organisation. And Lean is not just a set of tools – it is a management philosophy – a culture. It becomes the way we think and act.

Andrew Mawson – one of the UKs most outstanding social entrepreneurs tells of the first time he asked some members of his community what they would really like to do. It turned out that they aspired to go on a day trip to the coast. Fair enough thought Andrew and worked with them to make it happen. After the trip had been undertaken he asked them what they would like to do next? And the reply came – ‘Let’s go on another trip to the (same) coast’! Let’s do it again! Andrew recognised that the aspirations of his customers were narrow. That he could provide experiences far more powerful and effective in driving community development. He understood that they had no real idea of what was possible. So he proposed that their next project was to be a journey across the Sinai desert. As their supplier he transformed their ideas of what could be achieved based on his on his knowledge, experience and expertise. This would never had happened had been trained in Lean principles.

And now Lean Simon tells us Lean consultants are being engaged by Yorkshire Forward to increase organisational efficiency. No doubt pieces of paper will soon be travelling less far on their journey through the offices, being touched by fewer people and processes generally more efficiently. And many of the employees perceptions will be reinforced that their role is not to facilitate the entrepreneurial re-birth of the region – but to design and administer effective bureaucratic processes.

For me business is about emotion, aspiration, imagination, passion, energy and risk. I am not making an argument for waste (although I do often find myself encouraging clients to ‘create slack’) but I am arguing for cultures that favour action and re-invention over perfection. If the price of Lean is a culture that favours analysis and incrementalism over imagination, re-invention and risk taking then I for one find it a price I am not prepared to pay.

At the end of the presentation I asked Simon whether he really felt that Lean held the answers to sustainable competitiveness in knowledge based business – whether it could drive the creativity and innovation necessary to compete in the future. And he answered ‘ No!’.

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